'Not getting paid - and loving it.'

Mike volunteering


If it’s true that the Australian economy has hit the skids and my industry (media) is dying, then why am I championing unpaid work? That’s because I’m talking about giving my time away to volunteer organisations that thrive on unpaid workers for their good causes.

This week marks National Volunteer Week in Australia and what better time to put your volunteer hat on and get involved.

My first experience with volunteering came six years ago when I signed up to be a part of a community radio station. However, I always consider this time as self-serving, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but in recent years I have found a better, more selfless use of my free time.

Two years ago I was in an enviable, albeit bank balance poor, position with few university contact hours, in between jobs and a large amount of free time on my hands. For some reason helping out at a women’s and children’s hospital popped into my head, so I hit up Google and found a suitable location. (OK full disclosure, I had been binge-watching Grey’s Anatomy seasons to stem my unemployed boredom and was inspired – no regrets.)

At the time I felt that I had the ability to give my volunteer services to any organisation but felt that young males might be in short supply at a hospital for women and children. My decision was vindicated when I went to the information sessions and I was the only male in attendance. At the two Volunteer’s Christmas parties I’ve been to I brought the median age down by decades. That’s not to take anything away from the retirees at the hospital. The older generation volunteers are very important and give so much of their time, but I believe a balance of gender and age is also a must.

National Volunteer’s week

So there I was, a 24-year-old play therapist’s assistant. “What’s that?” you ask. “Sounds like a made up role…” you say. Well, the role of a play therapist is to act as the chief distractor of children who are spending days and weeks on end in an environment that no one would voluntarily (pardon the pun) choose to be in. I act as an assistant to the play therapist; wandering around the side rooms, checking in on patients and their families and playing copious amounts of games, making crafty things or having conversations with weary parents. It’s a pretty great role.

Some of my favourite experiences at the hospital include:

–       Meeting a little girl who wants to be a palaeontologist but also a zookeeper or a lion. She was very knowledgeable on hypotheses too.

–       Dancing my arse off at a winter disco with an army of partying patients and the Star Light Captains; those Captains are A-grade legends.

–       The faces of parents when I offer them a few minutes of relief from being “trapped” in a hospital side room for days on end with children who are going stir crazy.


–       Seeing the ‘regulars’ who know every single thing going on in the hospital and remember who I am.

–       The openness and frankness of those I come in to contact with. All of these people are happy to share their lives with a complete stranger and have the utmost respect for volunteers.

–       Rocking an 18-month-old screaming child while the mother had a break to grab a much-needed coffee.

–       The kids who don’t or can’t say much but offer a smile of recognition or extend their hand to mine.

–       The young Aboriginal boy who could be such a rascal on occasions when he didn’t get his way, but lit up whenever I would come into the room.

–       So many lost games of UNO, Snakes and Ladders, Mario Kart, the list goes on. And half the time I’m actually trying!

Of course there are difficult moments that creep up on me when I least expect them. The little girl who is afraid of males and I’m too heartbroken to ask why. The young child who referred to another patient as being, “pretty cute for an Aboriginal” or children who are far too young to have detailed knowledge about the world of hospitals and procedures. One example sticks out in my mind where the army of doctors came in to check on a 9-year-old boy sharing a room with his 2-year-old sister. Acting as any parent would, the boy quizzed them about his condition as well as hers, all the while reassuring his upset and anxious sister. I’ve found the best way to deal with the horrors of hospital life is to be blissfully ignorant. These kids are like my little cousins, only in a hospital. For the few hours a week that I’m with them, they’re not sick and it’s not my place to worry for them.

One of my proudest moments at the hospital was last year when I received my badge signifying that I had given one hundred hours of volunteer service. It might pale in comparison to the others, one volunteer had given 20,000 hours, another thirty-five years, regardless, it was still a nice moment to be recognised for all the “hard work”.

Get Involved!

If I can leave you with this; in honour of National Volunteer Week, get involved. Donate blood, visit oldies during extreme weather, give up three hours a week to be a big kid in a hospital or start at home and offer babysitting services to a family member in need. Volunteering doesn’t have to be a massive undertaking. My employment circumstances have changed vastly since I first started but I’ve made the decision that every Friday at 9am I’ll be at the hospital for three hours. Chances are most organisations will be flexible with how best to use your time. And you never know, maybe you’ll find something you love. I’ve decided if this whole media caper doesn’t take off, maybe I’ll do a postgraduate degree in early childhood learning.